The present generation in the fervour of its repentance is like to cast off too much. So many false principles and hasty deductions have been offered to its parents and grandparents in the name of science that it is becoming unduly suspicious of the scientific method.
A century ago men's minds were sick unto death from too much science and too little mysticism. To-day the danger is that even the drawing-rooms are scented with a mysticism that anathematizes science.
At no time since the days of S. Thomas was the saint's scientific method more lacking. Everywhere there is need for a mystic doctrine, which in itself is neither hypnotism nor hysteria, and in its expression is neither superlative nor apostrophic, lest the hungered minds of men die of surfeit following on starvation.
The message and method of S. Thomas are part of that strange rigidity of the thirteenth century which is one of the startling paradoxes of the ages of faith. It is surely a consolation that these ages of a faith which moved mountains, or at least essayed to remove the Turk, were minded to express their beliefs in the coat of mail of human reason! The giants of those days, who in the sphere of literature were rediscovering verse and inventing rhyme, and who in every sphere of knowledge were bringing forth the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, were not so blinded by the white light of vision as to disown the Greeks. They made the Ethics of Aristotle the four-square walls of the city of God; they expressed the mysteries of the Undivided Three in terms of the Syllogism. Thus they refused to cut themselves off from the aristocracy of human genius. They laid hands -- but not violent hands -- on the heritage of the ages. No philosophers have ever equalled their bold and lowly-minded profession of faith in the solidarity of human reason. For this cause S. Thomas, who is their spokesman, has now become an absolute necessity of thought. Unless the great Dumb Ox is given a hearing, our mysticism will fill, not the churches, but the asylums and the little self-authorized Bethels where every man is his own precursor and messiah.
That S. Thomas is to be accepted as a master of mysticism may be judged from the following facts in the life of a mystic of the mystics, S. John of the Cross:
|It has been recorded that during his studies he particularly relished psychology; this is amply borne out by his writings. S. John was not what one could term a scholar. He was, however, intimately acquainted with the Summa of S. Thomas Aquinas, as almost every page of his works proves.... He does not seem to have ever applied himself to the study of the Fathers.... As has already been stated, the whole work (The Ascent of Mount Carmel) is based upon the view S. Thomas Aquinas takes of the essence and operations of the senses and of the faculties of the soul, and upon his treatise on the virtues.|
S. Thomas hardly needs an imprimatur after six centuries of full trust. But in the hard matters of mysticism, which he has treated as a scholar should, it is reassuring to know that he has the approval, not only of the scholars, but of the mystics.
VINCENT McNABB, O.P.